Lurie Institute researchers on the front lines of disability policy advocacy

November 20, 2019

From left: Communications Specialist Finn Gardiner, MPP'18; Research Associate and PhD Candidate Robyn Powell; Research Associate Sandy Ho

Whether testifying in front of federal agencies or assessing the policy plans of presidential hopefuls, researchers from the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy are advocating for inclusive and progressive federal policies. 

“I’m really proud of the work of our Lurie Institute researchers in protecting the civil and human rights of people with disabilities,” says Professor and Director Monika Mitra.

Communications specialist Finn Gardiner, MPP’18, testified Nov. 15 in front of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the impact of paying subminimum wage to people with disabilities, a practice which is allowed through the section 14(c) waiver program of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (His testimony begins at 3:01:30 in the video linked here.)

“The problem with subminimum wage work is it engenders stereotyping,” he testified. “It sends the message that if you are a worker with a disability who is deemed to be somehow less productive than other members of society you are only worth being paid pennies on the dollar. If this were about people in some far-flung country, there would be public outcry at the kind of sweatshop wages people are being paid.”

As the 2020 presidential race heats up, Lurie researchers are also examining Democratic candidates’ proposed policies.

In a Rewire News piece titled, “Greater attention is needed to address the pervasive discrimination facing parents with disabilities,” research associate and Heller PhD candidate Robyn Powell wrote about Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s plan for parents with disabilities. At the time, he was the only presidential candidate to have one.

She highlighted challenges for parents with disabilities, including being more likely to be involved with the child welfare system, visitation and custody problems and the limitations of Medicaid-funded personal care assistants.

“Expanding services and supports for parents with disabilities can benefit both parents and their children and also lead to less child welfare system involvement,” she wrote.

Research associate Sandy Ho, the founder and co-organizer of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit, hosted a Twitter town hall with Secretary Julian Castro on Nov. 14. Questions covered a variety of topics, including protecting the Americans with Disability Act, accessible housing, the intersection of disability and climate activism, obstacles to political participation and more.

“By having a disabled person moderate the town hall on his disability rights policy, it gave people with disabilities direct access to engage with a presidential candidate in an accessible forum,” says Ho.

“This sends the message that disabled communities are a powerful voting bloc in an arena that is often so diminishing of our lived-experiences and political power. The disabled activists and organizers of #CripTheVote who made this happen look forward to the ripple effect this will have during and beyond the presidential campaigns; our rights to access services, programs, community-living, and the democratic process don't stop when the debates stop.”